The Quinoa Controversy

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The Quinoa Controversy

The halachos of kitniyos

Shmuel Stein

Miami Beach Kollel

Quinoa (pronounced “keen-wa”) has been popular in South America for many years, but has only become popular in America recently. This “super grain of the future” is not a true cereal grain, rather it is a seed from the “goosefoot” family (the plants in this family have leaves which look like goose feet), related to beets, and grows on a tree which is three to six feet tall. The UN deemed 2013 the “International Year of Quinoa”. Although it’s unclear what ramifications this accolade will have, it has been debated whether quinoa may be eaten on Pesach or not. In the following paragraphs we will review the basic halachos and minhagim of kitniyos, and determine what the controversy over quinoa is all about.

 

 

What is Chametz?

As we know, it is forbidden to eat chametz on Pesach. The Torah states, “Whoever eats chametz on the seven days of Pesach will be cut off from the Jewish nation.1”

 

How do we define chametz? Chametz results when one of the five species of grains – wheat, barley, oats, spelt, or rye – comes in contact with water and remains undisturbed for 18 minutes without kneading. When these grains become in contact with water the enzymes within the grains begin the fermentation process known as leaven; after the dough is left undisturbed for 18 minutes the leavening process is complete, and the dough is chametz. [Note: If the dough is left in a place with higher temperature, the fermenting process will occur in less than 18 minutes.]2

However, once the dough is put in an oven, it cannot become leavened and therefore cannot become chametz. The oven expels the water from the dough, and destroys the enzymes in the grain which produce fermentation, which in turn prevents leavening from ever occurring3.

 

Kitniyos

As we mentioned, Chazal teach us3 that only five species of grain can become chametz through fermentation. The Gemarah explains4 that any other grains such as rice or millet cannot become chametz through fermentation; rather a different process called sirchon (decaying) occurs. Therefore rice, millet, and beans are not included in the prohibition of chametz, because they can never turn into “chametz.”5

 

The beginning of the Ashkenazic custom

The Shulchan Aruch rules6 that one may eat rice and kitniyos (legumes) on Pesach, since they are not chametz.

However, the Ramah writes7 that the custom of the Ashkenazim is not to eat rice or kitniyos (or its derivatives i.e. oil produced from kitniyos8) on Pesach. This minhag dates back at least to the times of the Sma’k (1200s)9, and the accepted custom among Ashkenazim has become not to eat kitniyos such as beans (soy, lima, kidney), peas, corn, rice, string beans, mustard, sesame, of buckwheat (kasha) [see footnote* for additional items which are kitniyos] and products containing them10 .

 

What is the reason for this minhag?

The Mishnah Berura11 gives a couple of reasons why this minhag was instituted:

 

1) It is common for kitniyos to be grown near chametz grains. These chametz grains can get mixed into the kitniyos, and turn into chametz. Since it’s very difficult to remove the chametz grains from the kitniyos, the minhag was established not to eat them on Pesach.

 

2) It is common for kitniyos to be ground, made into flour, and even baked; if kitniyos were permitted to be eaten on Pesach an unlearned person may mistakenly assume that flour and cakes made from real chametz are permitted as well.

 

Therefore, because of these concerns the Ashkenaz minhag of kitniyos was instituted. [Note: Even Sefardim who eat rice and kitynos on Pesach are careful to check the rice meticulously three times to ensure that there are no chametz grains mixed into them12.]

 

Leniencies for Kitniyos

There are however many leniencies which apply to kitniyos that do not apply to real chametz:

 

1) Benefiting from kitynos The minhag of kitniyos only prohibits eating kitniyos. Unlike real chametz which one may not eat or even derive benefit from, one may derive benefit from kitniyos13. For example:

  • One may use oil derived from kitniyos to light a flame14.
  • One may use a kitniyos product to feed his animal15.

 

2) Ba’al yi’ra’eh Unlike real chametz which may not be owned by a Jew on Pesach, one may keep kitniyos in his home without selling it to a non-Jew16. [Note: some rule that one should sell his kitniyos as well because of the concern that there may be real chametz mixed into the kitniyos17.]

 

3) Batel b’rov – Chametz grains which became chametz on Pesach can never become batel (nullified); even if a small amount of chametz fell into a pot of non-chametz food it would prohibit the entire pot. However, regarding the minhag of kitniyos, if a small amount of kitniyos fell into a pot of non-kitniyos food, the entire pot is still permitted to be eaten, as long as there is more non-kitniyos food (i.e. 51%)18. For example, when using paper towels, which many times contain starch derived from kitniyos, one does not need to be concerned that some of the starch will end up in his food, since if it does, it is batel b’rov19.

 

4) For a sick person or child – The minhag of kitniyos was never extended to a person who is sick (even if he is not in danger)20. Therefore, someone who is sick may take medications which contain kitniyos.

Similarly, children who need to eat kitniyos may be given kitniyos to eat21. Therefore, one may feed or give baby formula which contains kitniyos.

 

5) Kitniyos sh’nishtanah (kitniyos which were transformed) – As we mentioned earlier not only is kitniyos prohibited, but derivatives of kitniyos (e.g. oil from kitniyos) is prohibited as well. There is controversy whether kitniyos which are totally changed is still prohibited; since the kitniyos was totally changed it might not be considered to be “kitniyos” anymore. For example, when corn and other kitniyos are biochemically transformed, aspartame and ascorbic acid are created. Aspartame and ascorbic acid are used to create NutraSweet sweeteners which is used to produce diet soda.

 

Some Poskim rule22 that kitniyos which had a drastic change cannot be considered kitniyos anymore. They base their opinion on a ruling of the Mishnah Berura which says23 [regarding blood which was transformed] that when it comes to an issur d’Rabanan one may be lenient and consider it has transformed into a “new” product. These Poskim apply this halachic ruling to kitniyos, which is only a minhag, and permit kitniyos which has transformed.

 

Other Poskim24 however prohibit the use of kitniyos even if it was transformed. They argue that although one may be lenient with food which has been transformed regarding an issur d’rabannan, one must be more stringent when dealing with a minhag (especially on Pesach), because a minhag sometimes is stricter then a din24a ; therefore they prohibit using diet sodas containing kitniyos sh’nishtanah on Pesach. [Some poskim25, although they prohibit eating kitniyos sh’nishtanah on Pesach, permit drinking diet soda on Pesach because the kitniyos is batel b’rov.]

 

The Quinoa Controversy

It has been heavily debated whether quinoa is included in the minhag of kitniyos. What is the point of contention between the Poskim? What is the controversy all about?

 

On the one hand quinoa is very likely candidate to be included in the prohibition of kitniyos. It is grown in close proximity to chamtez grains; and furthermore it is common that quinoa is ground into flour, and even resembles a grain. Therefore classifying quinoa as kitniyos would seem to be the obvious choice.

 

However, many Poskim26 base their opinion to permit eating quinoa on Pesach on a ruling of Rav Moshe Feinstein (where he discusses the use of peanuts on Pesach)27. Rav Moshe asks, why are potatoes not included in the minhag of kitniyos? They too are used to produce flour (potato starch) and can be confused with real chametz? He answers that the nature of the minhag of kitniyos is as follows: only items which were accepted as “kitniyos” by Klal Yisroel are included in the minhag; any new-world crop which were never accepted as kitniyos is not included in the minhag, even if it makes sense that it should be. With this in mind, many Poskim permit the use of quinoa on Pesach, since it’s a new-world crop which was unknown and never accepted as part of the minhag.

 

There is an obvious question on this argument: corn. Corn is also a new-world crop which only became known in Europe when Columbus brought it back from America in 1492. Although it was unknown at the time that the minhag of kitniyos began, the minhag is that it that it is still included in “kitniyos” and it is not eaten on Pesach by Ashkenazim?

 

Therefore, the Poskim who prohibit eating quinoa on Pesach rule28 that an item that looks like a grain and is used in a similar way to kitniyos, like corn and quinoa, must be included in the minhag – even though it wasn’t around when the minhag was established. Only potatoes which are larger and do not closely resemble grains, as corn and quinoa are, was not added into the minhag. Therefore, these Poskim prohibit eating quinoa on Pesach just as corn is prohibited.

 

The Poskim who permit eating quinoa on Pesach answer the question29 regarding corn as follows; truthfully, corn too did not have become included in the minhag of kitniyos since it is a new-world crop, and was never accepted as kitniyos; however, for whatever reason when corn became known and popular, Klal Yisroel on their own accepted it as kitniyos; and therefore we too follow this minhag of not eating corn on Pesach. However regarding quinoa, no one ever accepted it as “kitniyos” and therefore there is no obligation or reason to create a new minhag to prohibit the use of quinoa on pesach.

[Note: According to all opinions, since it is common that quinoa is grown near real chametz grains it must be certified that has been supervised and is kosher for Pesach.30]

 

 

*The following are included in the minhag of kitniyos10: bean-sprouts, black eye, canola oil, caraway, chickpeas, corn syrup, cumin, dextrose, emulsifier, fennel, fenugreek, flax seeds, green beans, guar gum, kummel, lecithin, lentils, licorice, Lucerne, lupine, millet, popcorn, poppy seeds, saffron, snow peas, soy oil, soy, starch, stabilizer, sunflower seeds, and tofu. However, coffee, tea and radishes are not included in kitynos. Spices are not included in kitynos but should be checked to make sure that no chametz grains are mixed in.

The following oils are included in the minhag of kitniyos10: vegetable oil (made totally from or contains soybeans), corn oil, canola oil (made from rapeseed). Regarding cottonseed oil (made from the seeds of a cotton plant) the minhag in Eretz Yisroel is that it is kitniyos; however the minhag in America not to consider it kitniyos, following the minhag of R’Moshe Feinstein and R’ Yaakov Kamenetzky. Oil from olives, palm, and walnuts may be used on Pesach.

 

 

1 Shemos 12,15   2 Based on The Laws of Peasch: A Digest pg. 32     3 Mishnah and Gemarah Pesachim 35a Rambam beginning of perek 5    4  ibid   5 Rambam ibid Aruch Hashulchan 453,2  6  453,1     7 453,1      8  based on Rama who writes that deriving benefit from permitted it would seem that eating oil is prohibited – The Laws of Pesach this is the prevalent custom  9 brought ibn Yesodei Yishurun 6 pg 397    10 Aruch Hashulchan ibid The following list of items are from “halachically Speaking”- kitniyos; one may ask his Rav regarding specific items 11 453,6  12  The Laws of Pesach pg. 41-42  13 Rama 453,1 M.B.10  14  Rama ibid   15 Halichos Chaim 1, pg 111;340    16 Rama ibid    17 R’ Elyashiv quoted in Halacha shel Pesach pg 100 note 35    18 Rama ibid   19  Halachically speaking page 3    20 M.B. 353,7   21 Chai Adam 127,6    22 R’ Belsky and the OU      23 216,7 quoting Pri migadim mispitzos 2 that when its batel 1/60 if it gives taste it’s only assur m’drabannan     24 Rav Landau from Eretz Yiosroel quoted in Laws of Pesach pg. 384   24a  The Laws of Pesach pgs. 40-41    25  conversation with the Star K; although normally there may still be a problem of “nosen ta’am” regarding the minhag of kitniyos as long as there is rov it is permitted    26  Star K and CRC and OU (2014)   27 Igm”o o.c. Vol 3, 63     28  R’ Belsky ; This would also seem to be the ruling of R’ Shlomo Zalman Aurbach based on Halichos Shlomo pg 89 (4,17 note 28)  29  In a conversation with the Star K and CRC  30  Star K Kashrus Kurrents and OU

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